Life Beyond Therapy: BDSM/Fetish/Leather/Kink

(Editor's note: This post was originally published by SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.)

After the recent Folsom Street Fair, a client said that he saw me on a list of “kink-friendly” therapists. I was intrigued. I wanted to know what that meant, so I Googled “kink” and got: “unusual sexual behaviors or practices.”

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  • Life Beyond Therapy: BDSM/Fetish/Leather/Kink

To this I reply: Who defines what is “unusual” and “unusual for whom?”

My curiosity piqued, I Googled:

Fetish—an object or a part of the body that arouses sexual desire or is necessary for one to reach full sexual satisfaction.

Leather—a community where people of varying body types are celebrated; a form of self-expression; being proud of your sexuality by displaying it in your (leather) outfit or gear.

BDSM—sexual practices or activities involving bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism or acts or domination and submission.

Ah yes, BDSM. Years ago, as a new therapist, I felt that if I was going to work with the LGBT community, I wanted to know about aspects of the community that weren’t so mainstream. So, I signed up for a workshop on BDSM. It was quite enlightening. I can’t easily summarize it here, but there is so much more to it than I was aware. There were subtleties and nuances that pretty much blew the lid off my Ohio farmboy mindset.

I am ashamed to admit that psychotherapy and psychology have—historically—not been friends to “practitioners of BDSM/Leather/Kink Lifestyles” (the term recommended by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom). I am adding “fetish” to this community and calling it “the BFLK community.”

Unfortunately, a lot of psychologists still view the BFLK community quite negatively, labeling them as “deviant.” To me, alternatives to traditional sexual behaviors and roles are not deviant, they are different. Just because someone else likes to do something that doesn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean it’s deviant, unhealthy or wrong.

Many of us have never examined the moral codes that we were raised with. Believe me: growing up on a farm in Ohio, I was neither encouraged to experiment with nor explore alternatives to traditional, conservative sexual roles.

After working with clients over the years, I have learned that BFLK can be a practice, a lifestyle, an identity and an orientation. Regardless of how much a person incorporates elements of BFLK into their life, BFLK practitioners deserve respect and sensitivity, which has not always been forthcoming from San Diego’s LGBT community.

Some psychologists label anything BFLK as unhealthy or harmful to your own mental health and that of your partner(s). To me, as a BFLK–friendly psychotherapist, I find that there are many ways to express healthy adult sexuality. For example, you might be tentatively exploring some of your (formerly secret) sexual/erotic fantasies. This exploration could take many forms. It could be as simple as being turned on a bit by the presence of leather or it could involve a major shift in your core sexual identity and lifestyle.

The choice is yours. It’s your life and you get to decide what is “healthy” (or not) for you.

If you decide to bring elements of the BFLK world into your erotic life, I encourage you to find supportive partners who can help you find a safe space to do so and will give you the support you need in your explorations. Thank God for the Internet, where it’s possible to find others who share your unique and specific fantasies and let you know that you are but one of many.

It is very good for your mental health to know that you are not alone: you are a member of a community of like-minded people.

Some people have figured out what they enjoy sexually, but have trouble figuring out how to integrate their sexuality into a caring and loving relationship. Being part of a BFLK community/support group or working with a BFLK-friendly therapist can be helpful.

Remember: it’s always worthwhile to question who defines what is “normal” or “healthy” and what their fears and biases are. I believe that it’s not until a person’s inner erotic life is embraced and affirmed that he or she can be intimate with another person.

Self-acceptance of our erotic orientation is essential for our own peace of mind and intimacy with others.

Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.

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